Photograph of the week: Volcanic crater, White Island, New Zealand


If staring into a red-hot bubbling abyss sounds like the adventure getaway of your dreams, look no further than White Island, New Zealand. Often referred to as the world’s most accessible active volcano, White Island is a living, breathing, roaring, hissing example of Nature at its most angry… A roiling mass of geothermal activity, steaming vents releasing 800°C toxic gases, bubbling pits, hot volcanic streams, and a lake of steaming acid. Even more exhilarating? You can stand on the edge of all this, right on the crater, for a view into the depths of the earth.

Photo of the Week: Volcanic Crater, White Island, New Zealand

Think we’re being overly dramatic? Consider this: the full Maori name for the island is ‘Te Puia o Whakaari’, which means ‘The Dramatic Volcano’.

Situated 49km off the coast of Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty, on New Zealand’s North Island, White Island is a circular volcano approximately 2km wide, 321 metres high, and, most impressively, 1.6km deep. Drawing its power all the way from the sea floor, White Island has been active for at least 150,000 years. More recently, it has had around 35 small to moderate eruptions since 1826. Most telling of its active status, however, is the fact that White Island was, effectively, in eruption from December 1975 to September 2000, the longest eruption episode in history.

Given all this seismic activity and the devastating power that lurks beneath the ocean blue, how then is it possible to get up close and personal with what can only be termed a force of nature? On an eruption scale of one to five, the island is usually on an alert level of just one or two. At most times the volcanic activity is limited to steaming fumaroles and boiling mud, with the last notable eruptions occurring in March 2000, complete with belching ash; followed by a phreatic, or steam-blast eruption in 2001.

Today, tour operators to White Island (thus named by Captain Cook on his 1769 voyage of discovery for the permanent marshmallow white cloud that engulfs the top of the crater), keep constant vigil on activity, with visits to the volcano called off at the slightest hint of danger.

If conditions are favourable, guided tours are available seven days a week from Whakatane and Tauranga either via speed boat or helicopter. In keeping with the volcano’s active status, gas masks and hard hats provided on every tour. Once you have solid, if seismic, ground beneath your feet, experienced guides will lead you on a 1.5-2-hour exploration of the inner crater where you will discover volcanic and geothermal marvels, as well as the remains of a sulphur mine and factory which have survived multiple eruptions since being abandoned in the 1930s.

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Comments (6)

  1. Nick says:

    Now that’s some picture. Nature at its most impressive and awesomely powerful. Puts mankind in its place – nothing much that we can do about such an predictable show of power.

  2. Steve Nicholson says:

    Yes, starring into a red hot abyss is my idea of a great travel experience. Never done that one before. Very glad on the health and safety front that they take no chances. My wife is a nervous traveller at the best of times and she would need 100% guarantees on safety.

  3. Fred says:

    Te Puia o Whakaari – not that I’m fluent in Maori but they are a people who tend to say it as it is. You can’t get much better than “The Dramatic Volcano.”

  4. Sharon Harris says:

    A visit to White Island, standing on the rim of the crater would be some bed-time story to tell your grandchildren. I might be economical with the truth, telling them that it is the world’s most active volcano. Who needs to know about it being the most accessible? A tale of 800 centigrade toxic gases and bubbling streams plus that lake of steaming acid would even outdo Lord of the Rings for drama.

  5. Mike Watkins says:

    Utterly incredible to read that there was a sulphur mine and factory on White Island until it was abandoned in the 1930s.

    It’s worth submitting a proposal to re-open it just to see the reactions that you would get from the New Zealand health and safety bureaucrats.

  6. Michelle S says:

    I know a lot of people find volcanoes fascinating, and I do too, but there’s no way I’d want to go near one or hike around any of them. The ‘dramatic volcano’, can’t believe I’ve never heard of it. I also had no clue that you could have such a long eruption period. 1975 to 2000, that’s so hard to picture. What kind of activity did that produce for it to be classed as active for that long? Very impressive place and I can see the allure of getting up close, but that’s one I’d have to watch from behind a screen or up in a helicopter, and that’s probably where you’d get the best shots too.

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